Toy Industry Moves to Ensure Product Integrity
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
This week's recall of more Mattel toys has the industry worried. Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, had a reputation for a strong quality assurance program in China. If its products are faulty, what about other toy makers? So with many Christmas orders already in the pipeline, manufactures and suppliers are scrambling to ensure the integrity of their products.
NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN: Roughly three billion toys are sold in the U.S. each year, nearly half of them in the weeks leading up to Christmas. So toy makers know that the pressure is on to beef up inspections and testing.
Mr. WAYNE CHARNESS (Senior Vice President, Hasbro): We've certainly increased the intensity of it. So yes, we are doing more.
KAUFMAN: Wayne Charness is a senior vice president at Hasbro, the nation's number two toy company.
Mr. CHARNESS: In light of the recent news from China, Hasbro has increased safety checks, quality controls checks at various stages throughout the whole process. So you know, not only we do the tests, but also there are third party independent testing.
KAUFMAN: The added vigilance is likely to mean more recalls, but the number so far is just a tiny fraction of the toys imported from China.
And barring unforeseen events, Shawn McGowan of the investment firm Wedbush Morgan does not except production shortages this fall.
Mr. SHAWN McGOWAN (Wedbush Morgan): If we find manufacturing problems in a lot factories or a lot more individual toys, then there may need to be some more steps taken that could effect the ability to get products onto shelves. But so far it's a long way off of having any real impact on the availability of toys for this holiday season.
KAUFMAN: McGowan thinks consumers will be a bit more wary this Christmas. But Carter Keithly, president of the Toy Industry Association, insists he's not worried.
Mr. CARTER KEITHLY (Toy Industry Association): We're not at this point. We think that there's ample time for us to recover the confidence of the consuming public.
KAUFMAN: Keithly says the system to ensure toy safety is, in his words, very robust. Consumers need not be concerned. But experts in marketing strategy and consumer behavior suggest the situation is a bit more complicated.
Safety issues have been raised not just with toys but with food, toothpaste, even prescription drugs. It's made consumers less trusting. UCLA professor Carol Scott says shoppers will be asking a lot of questions about the origins of products they buy.
Professor CAROL SCOTT (UCLA): Let's assume that you have some toy that was made in China and it is (unintelligible) that consumers see the made in China label and they may just decide that that's not what they want to take a chance on.
KAUFMAN: Scott says they may also be skeptical about buying toys from firms they don't know. Toy companies have already begun ad campaigns highlighting safety.
Industry leader Mattel launched its effort in newspapers and on the company's Web site.
(Soundbite of ad)
Mr. BOB ECKERT (Chairman, Mattel): Hello. I'm Bob Eckert, chairman and chief executive office of Mattel. As a parent of four children myself, I know that absolutely nothing is more important than the safety and well being of children. I know these recalls have been upsetting and I want you to know...
KAUFMAN: Experts believe the toy recall will have a lasting impact on the industry and how it does business. But at the same time, industry watchers say they don't expect a drop in toy sales this holiday season. Shoppers might reconsider what they buy, but parents will buy toys for kids for Christmas.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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